Riding High: how Ford is linking wellbeing with its cycling sponsorship

DEI Awards 2021 Mental Health 06

Companies are increasingly talking to us about how physical wellbeing can be an effective umbrella for including other markers of wellbeing, such as mental health and social wellbeing. The importance of physical health this year is also being recognised by World Mental Health Week in May, which is taking the theme of ‘movement’.

Bearing this theme in mind, we spoke to Ford Motor Company’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Manager Mark Wilson about his employer’s sponsorship of biking challenge ‘Ride London’, his personal experience of cycling as a way to manage mental and physical health, as well as his thoughts on his job, 18 months into the newly-created role.

Your involvement with cycling started out as personal rather than professional sponsorship – can you tell me about that?

Yes, when I lost my father in 2015 I needed something to pull me away from the sadness. In a pub soon after, a few mates and I hatched a plan to start cycling together. We started with the Trans Pennine Trail and then National Cycle Route 2 from Devon to Dover.

My dad’s advice on his deathbed was don’t put anything off. At the time I didn’t do enough exercise. I’d been told all my life that I couldn’t do things; I was born with club feet and a hole in my heart and I started going deaf at the age of 23 (now severe) so I needed to find a physical activity I could do. Cycling was it and it’s become my ‘go to’ place. It’s my escape. It makes me happy. If dad hadn’t died, I don’t think I’d have taken up cycling.

And tell me what led to Ford sponsoring RideLondon?

Ford is the title Sponsor for RideLondon promoting active travel and encouraging people to Park the Car [link].  After riding and completing last year I was honoured to be asked to lead the Ford Employee Team. There are 24 of us riding and I’m doing all the organising and coordinating of members. 

When you achieve a ride like RideLondon there’s no better feeling, the physical challenge, the euphoria and sense of achievement of completing.  The support you get on the ride from the riders and the communities is just wonderful.

How important is physical wellbeing in Ford’s view of general wellbeing?

We believe there are a number of factors that go into wellbeing. I’ve created something internally called ‘Wellbeing 101’ which I define as being a balance between physical, mental, social, professional and financial health. 

You have to have a balance of all 5 segments for good wellbeing; any one of them can be debilitating, they are all equally important and interlinked. For example you can’t have good mental health without having stable physical health. 

Sleep is a big one, for example, when you’re not sleeping you are not able to function optimally. 

Tell me about your role, which is new to Ford, as Mental Health and Wellbeing Manager…

I’d been an IT manager for 27 years at Ford but then I took on this job, having been involved in the IT side of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) since Ford launched the programme. It’s been wonderful. I don’t think you can get a better job than one where you help people.

When I first got it, I felt like a complete imposter. I was thinking to myself ‘hang on, I’m an IT manager’. But when I stand up and do presentations, or have chats with people, I get a great reaction and often have people say they see new perspectives. I also really enjoy asking people ‘so, what are you going to do to make a change?’

We have a presentation that has gone down particularly well called ‘How to Work in Difficult Times’ which is full of techniques and tools and we’ve now delivered to about thousands of employees.

What are some of your top techniques or tools?

One of my favourites is the locus of control which talks about 3 elements: the things you can control, the things you can influence and the things you can do nothing at all about. It hits home the message that if you are worrying about things you can do nothing about, you’re wasting your energy.

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Another thing I often say to people, including my own children (I have 6) is you have one important job to do and that’s to be your own best friend. And that can be difficult as we live in a society where we’re surrounded by marketing telling us we are not good enough.

What’s a common wellbeing issue you encounter with employees at work?

Alot of people feel they don’t get rewarded or recognised enough. But most of the time this is because people don’t know what you’re actually doing. So I talk to people about how they can spend more time taking people with them on the journey of what they’re doing. It’s about telling the story of what you do as much as the output of what you do. Also, the more you give thanks to others for what they do, the more you get back.

What’s a common wellbeing challenge?

Time. That’s what everyone wants. You need to work at wellbeing and give it time and reflection. 

You’ve also been involved with the Mental Health First Aid England’s ‘Whole Self’ campaign – tell me about that…..

We are all on a different journey through life and embracing who we are and truly accepting that our feelings and experiences shape, mould and define us is our superpower on that journey. Happiness starts with you.

Within Ford we see My Whole Self as a powerful tool to get people to open about who they are and the journey they have been on. 

With my journey, for example, I’m severely deaf and if I take my hearing aid out I don’t hear anything at all. If I looked at this in terms of ‘loss’ that would be really hard and difficult. But I look at how talking about my hearing loss journey has helped a lot of people and, actually, I’m probably the best listener I’ve ever been because I have to concentrate really hard to hear and I can’t sit on meetings doing my email… 

Come and listen to Mark speak at The Watercooler Event

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